At around noon on June 5 of last year, Beatrice walked past the boarded-up houses and chain-link fences of West 48th Street and arrived at her tidy two-story home.
The sweltering heat aggravated her asthma and made the short walk from the bus stop feel like a death march. She eased her matronly girth into the backyard swing. As she rocked back and forth, she massaged the pain out of her knees. She admired her daisies and trumpet vines, happy for a rare moment of peace.
When she was done catching her breath, she stood up to weed the flowerbeds. That's when she saw her daughter, Simone, walking toward her.
What is she doing home? Beatrice thought. She should be at school.
Immediately, Beatrice saw that something was wrong. At 20 years old, Simone was compulsively neat. But as the girl walked toward her, Beatrice saw that she was disheveled, her braids full of lint, her new capri pants ripped and dirty.
"What's wrong, baby?" Beatrice asked.
"They raped me," Simone said. Simone told her mother what had happened -- a story she would later relate to a reporter on the condition that her and her mom's real names not be used.
That morning had begun like any other for Simone. At around 6:30 a.m., she woke up, got dressed, and got her baby ready for day care. At around 7:20, she dropped off the baby and walked to the bus stop, only to see her ride zip past.
Great, she thought. She'd be late to her Life Skills classes again. She had her eye on nursing school, but at this rate, she'd never get her GED.
As she waited for the next bus, a tan Volkswagen Jetta pulled up. Inside were Adam Shannon and Orlando Gray -- friends of her older brother. They hustled drugs on 48th Street and could usually be found hanging out in Simone's living room, watching TV and fielding cell phone calls from customers.
"I'll give you a ride to school," Shannon said. "Get in, and we'll take you to school after we go over to my cousin's house on 50th."
Simone climbed in. After all, Shannon and Gray had rescued her with rides before.
They arrived at a house on West 50th with a flaky green and gray exterior. Feeling uncomfortable about going into a strange place, Simone said she'd wait in the car.
"My cousin wants to meet you," Shannon said.
Simone hesitated, but she really had to go to the bathroom, so she reluctantly followed the men inside. As they walked through the kitchen, littered with dirty dishes and expired cartons of food, Simone excused herself to go to the bathroom.
As soon as she shut the door, she realized the lock was broken. She was too nervous to even unzip her pants. Instead, she fixed her hair and opened the door to leave.
Blocking her way were Shannon and Gray. Gray, a scrappy 22-year-old who kept his hair in cornrows, wore nothing but a T-shirt and boxers; Shannon's sinewy frame was completely naked, except for a condom.
"I'm leaving," Simone said.
She tried to push through, but they grabbed her and shoved her back.
"Let me go," she said. "You lied. Your cousin's not here. I wanna leave."
"Quit acting like that," Gray said, and pushed her toward the bedroom. "Let your nigga get right."
Shannon pinned her down to the bed's red comforter.
"You both had better let me leave, because you're making me late for school," Simone said.
"You can be a little bit late," Gray said, then walked away, leaving Shannon to have the first turn.
Shannon pushed his knee into Simone's chest and tried to pull her pants off, but she was struggling too much. He called Gray for help, but he couldn't get them off either.
"I'll do it my damn self, get out the fucking way," Shannon said.
He grabbed the seat of Simone's pants and ripped them off, popping the buttons and exposing her powder-blue panties.
Simone tried to wriggle her arms out of Shannon's grasp. She managed to free one of her hands and grab hold of Shannon's Rocawear belt. She swung it over her head and smacked Shannon in the forehead.
"Oh no, you didn't hit me with my belt," Shannon said.
He pried open her legs. As he jabbed into her, he tried kissing her on the mouth. She clenched her lips shut and turned her head.
"Fuck you, I don't need to give you no kiss anyways," he told her.
Shannon continued heaving himself into Simone's curvy frame. After 30 minutes, he reached down and slipped off the condom.
"I'm gonna make you have my baby," he said.
It was almost 9 a.m. when Shannon called Gray back into the room and asked for another condom. As Shannon put it on, Gray asked when it'd be his turn.
"You'll get your turn when it's your turn," Shannon said. "Wait till I'm through, nigga."
A few minutes later, Shannon finished and turned Simone over to Gray. Shannon held her down so Gray could straddle her body.
"Please let me up, I gotta use the bathroom," Simone said.
Gray pulled out and let her up. She gathered her clothes and ran toward the bathroom. She grabbed Shannon's cell phone and hurriedly dialed her sister.
But before she could say anything, Shannon snatched the phone back and hung up. He dragged her into the living room and turned on the PlayStation 2. He wasn't done with her yet, he said.
Simone silently weighed her options. She'd heard that Shannon always carried a gun. He might kill her if she tried to run.
At 11 a.m., Shannon turned off the videogame and announced that it was time to leave. As they walked out, Simone furtively stole a piece of mail. That way, she'd have the address to give to the cops.
The three piled into the Jetta. Slumped in the backseat, Shannon offered to take Simone to Kmart to replace her pants, which were ripped and stained with his semen.
"Just take me home," she said.
Along the way, they stopped at a McDonald's drive-thru. Shannon and Gray each ordered sundaes. They asked if Simone wanted anything. She said no, but they bought her a double cheeseburger anyway.
After they dropped her off, Simone went in the house and fed her burger to the family bulldog. She walked out to the backyard, disheveled and dirty. The sight of her mother on the swing brought her to tears.
After she had heard her daughter's story, Beatrice called the cops. They suggested that Simone go to MetroHealth Medical Center for a rape exam. Beatrice sent Simone there with two of her sisters.
With Simone at the hospital, the gravity of the situation sank in for Beatrice. She could hardly believe it. She had known Shannon since he was 11 years old. In 1998, she had moved her brood out of the neighborhood, only to return six years later.
By then, much had changed. "The neighborhood was almost as bad as some of the places on the east," she said. "It had really gone downhill."
So had Shannon. He was now a 23-year-old man. He'd dropped out of high school to deal crack, and had cycled in and out of jail for car theft and drugs.
Yet he was still the same smart, charming, and impeccably polite boy she remembered. He'd give her daughters rides and keep her company on the porch.
The same went for Gray. He'd been nicknamed "Hap" long ago, because he always seemed happy. A friend of her son's from school, Gray was always over watching movies or just lounging on the stoop.
He didn't have much of a home life. His mother struggled to keep up the household, while his older brothers rotated through jail. For the most part, he managed to stay out of trouble himself -- until he hooked up with Shannon and began dealing drugs.
Still, Beatrice never thought they'd be capable of this. She could just imagine what her son would do if he found out.
Beatrice's son had a violent temper. Not a day went by without him exploding into a fit of rage over some minor thing. If he found out what Shannon and Gray had done, he'd surely go after them. And then they'd seek revenge.
"They know so many people," she says. "Who knows what they might do?"
When Simone finally returned from the hospital, she was exhausted from all the questioning and exams. Beatrice told her it would be best to get some rest for now. But before Simone left, Beatrice had one more piece of advice:
"Whatever you do, don't say anything to your brother. It could only make things worse."
On June 8, Cleveland detective Alan Strickler invited Simone down to the police station to give her statement. A slender man with a graying mustache, Strickler seemed to sense Simone was nervous. He offered her a glass of water to put her at ease.
"Do you know the names of the two men that you are making a complaint against?" he asked.
"Yes," Simone said.
She told him her story. When she got to the part where Shannon was playing videogames, she mentioned that Gray had wanted to have sex with her again, but she refused to take off her clothes.
Strickler stopped her. He didn't remember that from the original police report. He asked why she had left that part out.
"She stated that she was mistreated by the officers and everyone else, and either got confused by the questions or they were confused by her answers," Strickler wrote in his report (he declined to comment for this story).
Running short on time, Strickler ended the interview before Simone reached the end of her story. He said she'd have to come in the following day to finish up.
"In the meantime, if you see these guys, call me," Strickler said.
The next day, Simone was walking home from the bus when she noticed the tan Jetta parked across the street. She knew that Shannon and Gray were in her house, smoking weed and watching TV with her brother.
She ran in through the back door and up to her sister's bedroom. With the door closed, she quickly called Strickler.
"They're here," she said.
"I'll send a car down," was his response.
She waited at the day care across the street until she saw several police cars pull up in front of her house. She approached the officers, who told her to let them inside.
Simone opened the door. The officers poured into the living room, but the boys were nowhere to be found.
The cops spread out, searching the bathroom and linen closets. They found Shannon and Gray upstairs, hurriedly emptying their pockets of drugs.
The cops drew their guns. "Come on out, motherfuckers!" an officer shouted.
Shannon and Gray immediately raised their arms.
"What did we do?" the boys were asking.
"You know what the fuck you guys did," Simone yelled.
Simone watched as they were cuffed and loaded into the backseat of a cop car. Her brother stood next to her, trying to figure out what had happened.
"They raped me," Simone said.
Her brother scrunched his eyebrows in confusion. "They was in the house smoking with me and you ain't even tell me that they did something?" he said.
Eric Norton, a young defense attorney with J. Crew good looks, stood before a jury of 12 mostly white, middle-aged men and women.
Shannon and Gray stood accused of four counts of rape and two counts of kidnapping. But in his opening argument, Norton would suggest that the two young men were in fact the victims.
Norton argued that Shannon and Gray had known Simone for years and never laid a hand on her. Even if they were capable of raping someone, they'd never choose the sister of a friend they knew could beat them blind, Norton said.
Plus, Norton could prove Simone had a longtime crush on Shannon. He pointed to Shannon's cell phone records. Just a week before the alleged rape, Simone had placed 24 calls to Shannon's phone in one night.
Norton also pointed to Shannon's cell phone records from June 5 -- the day of the alleged rape. Simone had placed 11 different calls between 8 a.m. and noon -- the hours she claimed she was being raped and held hostage by Gray and Shannon.
Some of the calls were to time and temperature. Others were to her sister and her mother -- conversations that lasted as long as three minutes.
"She wants you to believe that she somehow commandeered that phone six times that day from these criminals," Norton said. "James Bond couldn't even do that."
Then Norton called attention to the various statements Simone had given since the incident. In her police report, she claimed they'd raped her three times. She told the grand jury it was five times. And that very day, she told the jury she'd been raped four times.
"What does the prosecution want you to do?" Norton asked the jury. "Add up those numbers, divide them by three, and then convict them of the average?"
But the best proof of Gray and Shannon's innocence was the rape exam. While it had found Shannon's sperm, Gray's DNA was nowhere on her. And a nurse who examined her testified that she found no bruises or other injuries to Simone's body.
"Does she strike you, beyond a reasonable doubt, as a crime victim?" Norton asked.
On December 4, the jury delivered its answer. Shannon and Gray were not guilty.
On a chilly January night at an Applebee's on Ridge Road, Shannon sits in a booth, slowly working on a surf-and-turf platter. He is dressed in designer jeans and a preppy black track jacket.
Shannon doesn't deny dealing drugs -- quite the contrary, he's as proud of his work as a union plumber. But he is definitely not a rapist, he maintains.
"I may do some bad things, but I'm not a bad guy, and I ain't got no reason to steal no sex from no woman," he says.
He says that on the morning of June 5, he and Gray were driving around when he spotted Simone at the bus stop. Just a week earlier, he and Simone had started fooling around at her place.
"We were getting real intimate," Shannon says. "We started kissing, getting touchy-touchy. But I had to be somewhere, so I asked if I could come back at 2:30 in the morning. She said fine."
For the rest of that evening, Shannon says, Simone was blowing up his cell phone nonstop.
"She constantly called me," he says. "But because some of my friends influenced me to go other places with them, I never came back until, like, 4:30."
When Shannon returned, they picked up where they left off. But they were interrupted when Simone's baby started crying.
"I told her we'd finish business another time," Shannon recalls.
So when Shannon saw Simone waiting for her bus, he told Gray to turn around and pull up next to her.
"Wanna hang with me?" he asked.
Simone said she had to go to school.
"You can't skip school to kick it with me?" he chided.
Simone stopped to think, then said yes.
They went back to Gray's girlfriend's apartment, where the two guys played videogames while Simone made a few calls on Shannon's phone. Then Shannon grabbed her hand and led her to the bedroom.
"We started kissing and touching, and she asked me if I had a condom," Shannon says.
He didn't, so he went back to the living room and asked Gray for one. He said they were in the dresser drawer.
As Shannon put it on, Simone went to the bathroom. When she returned, Shannon says, she took her own clothes off and they started having sex. When it was over, they went out into the living room and played videogames with Gray.
"I kept teasing her, saying, 'You don't know how to play this,' stuff like that," Shannon says.
After about 30 minutes, they all piled into the Jetta. Simone asked if they could go to McDonald's, so he obliged.
Then Simone asked them if they'd pick up her sister, so they could go to Kmart and return some pants.
"It was too hot, and we didn't feel like riding anymore," Shannon says, so they dropped Simone off at her house.
He thought everything would be fine, that the terms of their fling had been understood. "Man, was I wrong," he says.
"I didn't treat her like no queen. But to say we raped you because we didn't take you to Kmart or whatever? It just sounds crazy."
On a rainy Friday evening several weeks after his acquittal, Shannon walked down West 48th on the way to visit a friend. As he passed Simone's house, he saw her brother slouching on the steps of his porch.
"You a bitch," the brother shouted.
"You the one who lied about me in court," Shannon hollered back. "Do you think I'd come over to your house after I raped your sister? That's crazy. She's crazy."
As the argument grew more heated, and neighbors emerged from their doorsteps to watch, Beatrice came running out of the house, trailed by Simone.
"Did I rape you?" Shannon asked Simone. "Was I the one who took your clothes off? Why you telling lies? You know I didn't rape you!"
"Liar!" Simone shouted.
Beatrice stepped down from her porch and walked toward Shannon.
"This is how I see it," she said. "You hired attorneys, you got off. I don't judge nobody. It's over."
Shannon gave Simone and her family a long stare, then slowly walked on his way.